Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

memoryI enjoyed this documentary far more than I had expected to, believing that it was largely redundant at this point, after all the documentaries made about Alien featured on various DVD and Blu-ray releases over the past few decades, and of course all the books written about the film- most recently the late J W Rinzler’s magnificent The Making of Alien volume. An additional handicap is that some primary interviewees are no longer with us (Dan O’Bannon, H R Giger) and Ridley Scott was presumably not available/not interested, therefore forcing the film-makers to use video interviews from those old Blu-ray documentaries with the now so-familiar soundbites. The film’s editor Terry Rawling was a pleasant surprise appearance; he died in 2019 so I suspect this was one of the final interviews that Rawlings attended, if not the last.

And yes to some extent Memory is indeed redundant because there is little here that’s really new regards Alien lore for fans of the film. In some respects its largely a Readers Digest of all the factoids that Alien fans have learned over the years, but I did enjoy some of the points about mythology and symbolism, and how Alien really represents where society and its audiences were back in 1979 – it was clearly the right film at the right time, capturing the cultural zeitgeist and resonating through all these years since. I think there are some very valid points made and some views quite illuminating, particularly regards universal archetypes and myth.

Maybe the films argument that Dan O’Bannon was some kind of genius is a bit of a reach, but its no accident that O’Bannon was connected to some of the most important or memorable film projects that I have seen over the years- Dark Star, Alien, Total Recall, The Return of the Living Dead and Lifeforce. Some of them are great and the others are at the very least great fun (and I REALLY want to catch up with his last directorial effort, the Lovecraftian horror The Resurrected, which has escaped me for years, frustratingly). You don’t get a resume like that in Hollywood without having some talent, and he’s surely qualified as a genre great. Yes, Alien was very derivative of other, earlier movies and the genius of Alien is mostly that of Ridley Scott’s approach of elevating schlock b-movie fodder into serious, top-list quality motion picture, but one can’t deny that what made Alien unique was Giger, and it was O’Bannon who knew the artist (from the aborted Dune project) and championed his work for the film.

On the whole though I really enjoyed this documentary: the title is ironic considering so much of it was like a stroll down memory lane of Alien factoids and familiar faces. But yeah, this is Alien, and I don’t mind being reminded why the film is so bloody great, so this was certainly a very pleasant watch.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is currently available on Channel Four’s On Demand service up to late September, and is also available on DVD and digital download/rental.

A Nostromo Restoration

While I’m (still) reading J.W. Rinzler’s excellent The Making of Alien, and to try to excuse the fact that I haven’t had time to write any new reviews (haven’t even had time to watch anything since Saturday), I thought I’d post this link to a great old YouTube video that may have passed by some readers here. Have you caught yourself looking at your reflection in the mirror thinking you look old? Relax- it ain’t nothing like how bad the poor Nostromo looked like a decade ago. This video was posted by The Prop Store, who had acquired the original Nostromo miniature from Alien and commissioned Grant McCune Design’s modellers to try restore it to something like its original glory.

Its surprising just how basic the miniature was- definitely a product of its time and the Old School sensibilities of the British effects technicians working on the film. The miniature looks great in the film so you could argue its all it needed to be, but its nothing like the beautiful Enterprise miniature that was built and shot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture at around the same time- mind, it likely cost nothing like as much as the Enterprise did.

The Making of Alien by J.W.Rinzler

makingalienThis is a hell of a book. We’ve had some near-misses over the years (Alien Vault for one) as Alien continues to be hugely popular and generates such fascination to this day that every so often someone has felt like having a shot at it. Well, okay, the cynic in me suggests every so often people figure it’s time to make some more money out of the film, but as usual I digress. This time, they finally nailed it. God knows we’ve had so many books since the original Book of Alien, but this new book from J W Rinzler really is the definitive book about the movie. Its got all the old illustrations, pre-production paintings, storyboards etc that people will remember, and all sorts of new stuff too, imagery likely buried in boxes for all these decades. I haven’t finished reading the book yet but yeah, in the unlikely event that  somehow you weren’t aware of this book being out, you really should get a copy if you’re even remotely interested in the film.

With all respect to Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir book, this is the kind of book I would absolutely love to see about the making of Blade Runner. Sure, Future Noir has more information than anyone other than a BR nut could ever want, but it lacks the glorious, elegant presentation of books like this. Especially as the film is such a gorgeous visual spectacle. Its a funny thing that we haven’t seen that Blade Runner making-of book yet, but as Rinzler’s own Planet of the Apes book celebrated that films fiftieth anniversary, what the hell, there’s plenty of time for it to yet happen.  There’s a rumour circulating that Rinzler is now working on a book on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which sounds absolutely fascinating.